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Social-media policies: You can't say that!

Evan Schuman | July 1, 2015
Most companies' social media policies, if they exist at all, are highly inadequate, outdated or both.

I have no idea which version is true, but from the perspective of a social-media policy, it doesn't matter. When employees make vague comments on highly charged topics, the chance for this to blow up is huge. I'm as enthusiastic a supporter of the First Amendment as anyone, but employers need to be able to distance themselves from what their employees say -- even if "distancing themselves" means firing them. 

And so, if you're commenting about another comment, you need to make that clear: " Robert36762 needs to be praised for the good deed he has done." Pronouns can't help but be vague. Trust me: If there's a way for social media to twist words into the worst possible interpretation, that is what shall happen. 

Your policy should also note that the topic doesn't have to be controversial to be dangerous. Let's say that an employee updates her status by saying, "The lines at Miami International Airport sure are long today." Seems perfectly innocuous, doesn't it? But if she is in Miami because her company has sent her to visit a potential acquisition target, those 10 words could pack a lot of information that her employer doesn't want bandied about. Competitors could be reading her posts. 

And you don't even have to write anything to give away more information than you should, if you are in the habit of doing social-media check-ins. ("Jane Doe at Miami International Airport.") Photos can do much the same thing, either because the image clearly imparts information about where you are, or because the photo carries metatag data. And while you're at it, your policy should warn employees that sites that claim that pictures will disappear in minutes or seconds after sending them don't always live up to that promise

Despite all those risks, you can't forbid employees from using social media. You can only offer guidelines. Ask them to avoid discussing sensitive subjects. Make them think about how they might be revealing more than they should. And when they do engage in social-media discussions, make sure they understand the importance of writing comments that are explicit and specific. If someone's going to go down in a media fight, let it at least be for something he really meant to say.


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